Inside the Studio: A Day with a Leading Bristol Tattoo Artist – Creativity, Skill, and Passion Unveiled

Tattoo artist Mihai Turuianu, who works at No Regrets Tattoo Studio on Stokes Croft (Image: Jon Rowley)

A Bristol tattoo artist who charges £800 for a day session says that clients wait over a year to be tattooed by him. Mihai Turuianu, who etches his art onto clients who sometimes travel from a different country, works at No Regrets tattoo studio on vibrant Stokes Croft in Bristol.

“Tattoo virgin” Nia Dalton, a reporter from our sister site, The Mirror, spent a day at the light and airy studio to learn what it is really like to be a tattoo artist in 2023, walking in with some “pretty stereotypical” expectations. Where Nia anticipated being met with a “dark and dingy shop with hardcore men inked from head to toe,” she instead found a white and clean industrial space dotted with plants.

Describing the atmosphere as “instantly calming,” Nia was given an insight into how the in-demand team at No Regrets work, sitting in on a session with self-taught Mihai as he inked one of his “atmospheric and unusual” pieces onto a client.

As a self-proclaimed ‘tattoo virgin,’ just the mere thought of walking into No Regrets tattoo studio was somewhat intimidating – despite not planning to get a tat. I’d been invited to tag along with a tattoo artist for the day, and I had some pretty stereotypical expectations – picturing a dark and dingy shop with hardcore men inked from head to toe.

But the stylish and contemporary studio on vibrant Stokes Croft in Bristol couldn’t have been more different, with its industrial interiors and laidback atmosphere instantly calming. Walking up to the front desk, I’m greeted by manager Rosie, who turns on the coffee machine and talks me through what a modern-day tattoo studio looks like.

General view image of No Regrets Tattoo Studio
No Regrets Tattoo Studio on Stokes Croft quashed Nia’s “stereotypical” expectations (Image: Jon Rowley)

“Old-school tattoo shops used to put people off; they were very agro. If you didn’t want five men working on you simultaneously without breaks, you weren’t a tattoo person,” she explains. “But tattoos are for everyone now, like they weren’t ten years ago.

“You get your high-street trade and street shops, where you can choose a design out of a book, and custom studios like this, where everything is bespoke. We have 19 industry leaders from around the world, both male and female, and each specializes in something different.”

Rosie tells me that tattoos are more accepted nowadays, and new trends are emerging. “Microrealism is very popular,” she says, showing me photos of mind-blowing 3D tats, adding, “and cybersigilism has been a growing trend in the last couple of years.” Those have a futuristic feel.

“Fine art and illustrative tattoos are also pretty popular, and tribal is coming back into style, just in a different way,” Rosie says. I ask her about blackout tattoos, and she explains that “most people get them because they’ve got something big that can’t be covered up, like neo-tribal.”

“We had one guy recently who had a blackout palm. It must have been so painful,” she says, adding that it would be near-impossible to cover them, “so I don’t know what people will do when they go out of style.” She tells me that the sternum, knees, armpits, elbows, and inner upper arms at the most sensitive spots, but the palms are the worst.

Mirror reporter Nia Dalton with tattoo artist Dan Rubiano (left), studio manager Rosie Howard (second to right) and Matt Manson (right) at No Regrets Tattoo Studio in Bristol
Mirror reporter Nia Dalton with tattoo artist Dan Rubiano (left), studio manager Rosie Howard (second to right), and Matt Manson (right) (Image: Jon Rowley)

Having never been inked before, I ask the question she’s likely answered a million times: Do tattoos hurt? And she tells me: “They do hurt. There’s no two ways about it.” As many people begin to file into the studio and meet and greet their artists, I spot a few nervous faces, but most clients are relaxed.

“We can find space for you to have one later,” Rosie suggests casually, and I slightly panic inside. Could today be the day I get my first tattoo? “I’ll think about it,” I tell her. We take a tour upstairs to the open and bright space where dozens of pristine stools and beds are lined up, ready for the day.

I learn that a laser technician shares the building, but most customers have cover-ups instead of removals. “Some people aren’t keen on huge tribal print anymore, and anything nineties is out of style now,” Rosie says. Then she introduces me to the guy I’ll be shadowing – Mihai Turuianu – who goes in for a friendly hug instead of a handshake, and I immediately feel welcomed.

He’s a charming and unique character, and I’m fascinated to get to know him. “Mihai is an artist, not a traditional tattooist. His art is very atmospheric and unusual,” Rosie says. “He has to tell a story and won’t take on a project without meaning behind it.”

Mihai tells me that he was born in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, and has traveled around Europe for a decade to learn about different art forms. “The first time I put a needle to skin was ten years ago. It was a joke, and I started tattooing friends. After a few years, I realized I could improve by learning the art and how to draw,” he says.

Mirror reporter Nia (right) and Mihai Turuianu (left) tattoo artist working on a clients tattoo at No Regrets Tattoo Studios, Bristol
Nia shadowed Mihai Turuianu as he got to work on a client’s arm (Image: Jon Rowley)

Mihai is self-taught and incredibly popular with tattoo lovers, who will travel as far as Germany and wait over a year to secure a one-to-one appointment with him. I’m shocked to hear that his next available slot is July 2024. “I work with one guy per day for a full session. This is my first time tattooing Imani,” Mihai explains, introducing me to his client.

Imani Saidy is 23 years old and has traveled from Swindon after booking an appointment in January 2022. “A friend of mine from Northern Ireland recommend Mihai to me,” he explains. Imani’s already got six tattoos, including burning roses on his forearm and the 10 Commandments on his wrist – and today, he’ll be filling in his left sleeve.

But to my surprise, Imani has absolutely no idea what tattoo he’ll be getting permanently inked today – despite having more than a year to think about it and it taking up half of his limb. “I’ve never had an experience like this before. Usually, I give the artist a design, but I had no clue this time. Mihai designed it for me,” he explains.

Imani met with Mihai once before, and they spoke about his life in the Army and his introverted personality, and then Imani gave him the freedom to create a piece. The tattoo is a beautiful black and white portrait of a woman with the word ‘chaos’ written above it. “It looks naughty,” Imani says, impressed.

A close-up shot of a client's tattoo being designed by Mihai Turuianu
Mihai said his designs are like the “Marmite” of the tattoo world (Image: Jon Rowley)

“You got me bang on. I can be quite quiet and seem composed, but there’s lots of chaos inside,” Imani describes, and Mihai looks pleased. He explains: “For me, it’s all about feelings. I don’t sell a product. We create a collaborative piece of art. It’s not a printer job.”

Mihai gets to work laying out the materials and tools he’ll need for the next hour, making ‘secret’ ink mixtures. He shows me the dozens of tattoos he’s got on his body from seven artists and the first tattoo he did on himself. “It’s a very bad one. It’s supposed to be a panther with human legs and arms. It’s a beautiful memory,” he explains. “When I like a tattoo artist, I collect a piece of their art, like paintings.”

On a typical day, Mihai will start work at 11 am and go home whenever he finishes his tattoo, which could be 6 pm or as late as 10 pm. “I charge everyone £800 for a day session, no matter what you want,” he explains. “I love to take my time and make people feel comfortable. I prefer to take breaks when I like. It’s a healthy way to work without pressure.” While £800 sounds like a lot, I soon learn why there’s a general misconception that tats are mega expensive.

“From the outside, people think we make a lot of money, but there are so many things we pay for,” Mihai says, explaining that it costs him approximately £5,000 a month for materials, training courses, his website, Instagram ads, and the top-rated equipment, as well as going to conventions to advertise his art. “A lot of work goes into each tattoo. I usually work eight-hour days, three to five times a week, and spend weekends creating designs. A tattoo takes around 12 hours to prepare,” he explains.

As Imani lays down on the bed and Mihai gets to work inking, starting at the bottom of his arm (so as not to rub out the stencil), I watch with intrigue. “My style is different from what you find commercially – either you love or hate it,” Mihai says. He is the Marmite of the tattoo world, with a unique and abstract style that only works on big designs.

Mihai Turuianu tattooing Imani Saidy as he speaks to Mirror reporter Nia Dalton
Mihai Turuianu, who tattooed Imani Saidy on the day that Nia shadowed him, said it takes him around 12 hours to prepare a tattoo (Image: Jon Rowley)

I discover that Mihai chooses his clients as they select him. “If I don’t find common ground with a person, I just refuse them. I wouldn’t do a tattoo if there weren’t a story,” he explains. As well as the style and backstory, Mihai won’t work on somebody’s face or neck. “I have refused to tattoo a lot of places on my body. I don’t like the neck because it’s not a big canvas, and it’s rare for someone to have good skin on their neck,” he explains.

“It’s very elastic, so you must stretch it a lot. I think the face is one of the most beautiful parts of the body, and it’s a piece of art in itself, so I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t have a problem with artists who do, or people that have them; I choose not to.” He tells me that arms are his favorite body part as “the shape is nice, and they have huge potential.”

Mihai continues to shade each section of the tattoo while chatting away, and after a couple of hours, I can see the woman coming to life. At 3 pm, he takes a quick break to go outside and refuel, and it’s also a chance for Imani to stretch his legs and have another coffee before returning with headphones and music to distract him from the pain.

“It is painful, but so is having a baby,” Mihai light-heartedly says. “It can be excruciating if your nerves are very close to the skin. One guy screamed bad and felt terrible, but he told me, ‘I don’t want you to stop,’ so I learned to ignore it.” I glance at Imani, and I can tell he feels thankful that it’s not unbearable.

As the end of the shift nears, I’m interested to hear about the maintenance of a tattoo and what goes into the aftercare. “Generally, a tattoo takes around a week and a half to heal,” Mihai says. “It’s good to take two days off before and after the session. Before, you should moisturize the area with cream and take some vitamins. Please don’t drink alcohol as it can increase your blood pressure or tan, as sunburn can make it more sensitive.

“Tattoos need 24 hours to stabilize, so it’s essential to have the same environment close to the cells. After three days, you can expose the tattoo to the outside world.” I learned that tattoos will heal much quicker and easier than piercings if you take care of them, and swimming immediately after should be avoided.

As all the artists around us finish up with their tattoos for the day, the studio gets quieter, and my opportunity to get inked comes around. “Are you sure you don’t want one?” Rosie asks, trying to persuade me – but I decided to stick to my bare skin for now. I’d be more interested in picking up the pen and inking somebody else, though Mihai understandably won’t let me in on the action.

“Many people think anybody can be a tattoo artist, but that’s not true,” he explains. Having a closer look at Imani’s almost-finished design, I can see why Mihai refers to every piece of his work as a ‘masterpiece’ because it is one. His art is one-of-a-kind, and he couldn’t be further from the stereotype I pictured. As a tattoo outsider, I’ve learned that the modern-day world of tats isn’t what it used to be.

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